Wednesday 21 May 2014

Launch of Suntory Whisky in Australia - Tasted #91-93 (#101drams)

Suntory Australia held a stunning launch party last night at the Art Gallery of NSW to celebrate the official launch of Suntory whiskies in Australia, starting with an initial range of 6 whiskies:
  • Yamazaki 12 year old
  • Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
  • Hakushu 12 year old
  • Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve
  • Hibiki 12 year old
  • Hibiki 17 year old
While the Yamazaki 12 has been readily available for some time now, and a few others often found at specialist bottle shops, the event was to celebrate their official launch in Australia, and no doubt heralds a significant rise in their prominence both on and off premise over the coming months.

Being a huge fan of the Suntory whisky portfolio, this I can assure you is fantastic news Australia.

The night started with a Hibiki 12 and Perrier (the sparkling water, not the Champagne) in a Champagne flute, while guests mingled around art works and Suntory whisky displays (which some may argue are works of art themselves (especially the Hibiki bottles).

After a short while, we were ushered into another room where a formal tasting was to be held by Mike Miyamoto, Suntory's global whisky ambassador. After managing to snare a lucky spot towards the front, I found myself standing next to noted fashion designer Akira Isogawa, who I learnt will soon have an upcoming collaboration with Suntory involving scarves and Suntory whisky bottles. Sounds intriguing (keep an eye out late July).

Mike talked us through his time with Suntory (including being part of the Yamazaki Distillery for close to 40 years, and doing a stint in Scotland in the early 2000s), and gave us a brief overview of the history of Suntory, before explaining the Japanese whisky style (designed to appeal to delicate palates) and ethos - that success is people drinking and enjoying their whisky, not just winning a slew of awards (although they certainly have those too). Above all, Mike explained that Suntory whiskies should be "subtle, refined yet complex", and as the tasting showed, they definitely meet those criteria.

After explaining that the combination of spirit, stills, casks and wood type means that Yamazaki alone can produce 60 different whiskies, it was time to taste one, along with a Hakushu and Hibiki.

Yamazaki 12 (43% ABV, 12 years old, Japan, $110AUD RRP)
Colour: Honey
Nose: Ah, an old favourite that never gets old. Honey, some pineapple, and lots of vanilla.
Palate: Sweet, vanilla bean, some cinnamon, butterscotch and a hint of citrus.
Finish: Long, smooth, delicate, honied. Hints of spice and possibly some ginger.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A classic that hopefully will be with us for a long time to come. Also happens to be one of Steph's favourites - between Steph and I, there isn't a lot left of the bottle we have at home that a good friend recently picked up for us from Japan.

Hakushu 12 (43% ABV, 12 years old, Japan, $110AUD RRP) - #101drams
Colour: Light Champagne, straw.
Nose: Much more earthy than the Yamazaki. Green apples (in a big way), some pot purri. Very herbal.
Palate: Peat smoke (light but noticeable). Bigger bite with more depth than the Yamazaki. Meaty, musty. A whisky you can sit on.
Finish: Shorter than the Yamazaki. Some smoke, pears, apples and some grassy notes.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Consistently high standards, these whiskies.

Hibiki 17 (43% ABV, Blended, 17 years old, Japan, $150AUD RRP)
Colour: Orange honey.
Nose: Heaven. Somewhat in between the previous two - sweet, but with a whole lot of complexity going on - sea water, tropical fruits, peaches and cream.
Palate: As per the nose. Not terribly sweet at first, but it soon hits, with big notes of honey.
Finish: Light, medium length, delicate honey notes and tropical fruits.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Talk whisky around me long enough and I'll eventually get onto the topic of blends, at which point I'll usually make it known that Hibiki 17 is, in my opinion, one of the best blends in the world. This tasting hasn't altered that opinion at all - an absolutely stunning whisky, and one I very happily keep in my whisky cabinet.

Later in the night we were served this with a big ice ball. I usually prefer my whisky neat, but when you're at the launch of a Japanese whisky range, being offered an ice ball the size and clarity of which few apart from the Japanese seem to be able to manage, you don't say no. Astoundingly, by far the most dominant note from both the nose and palate was confectionary - I got Red Skins (along with Brooke and Julian from Whisky + Alement) while others (including Jonathon from The Whisky Ledger) got Gummi Bears. Fascinating, and further evidence of the amazing complexity of this whisky.

After the formal tasting, it was into yet another room for a pairing of the final three whiskies with various canapés from the Art Gallery of NSW's head chef. It was hard to pick a favourite, but the grilled short rib (with straw potato and truffle béarnaise) and the whisky chocolates were probably the standouts in what was a stunning overall selection.

Without keeping the night too formal, matching whiskies were served in a variety of ways - from highballs to neat to on the rocks. While I don't have detailed tasting notes*, I was blown away by the quality and depth of the Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve. Here's an NAS, relatively cheap, soon to be relatively widely available whisky that absolutely bats above its $80AUD price point. One to look out for.

In fact, one thing I've always said about the Suntory whisky portfolio is they produce quality whiskies at reasonable price points. One famous guest (who'll remain anonymous) explained his opinion of the difference between the Nikka and Suntory porfolios, which was loosely along the lines of "Nikka are like the Virgin Australia of the whisky world. Decent, but nothing amazing. Suntory whiskies are like the Qantas - a quality experience".

I couldn't agree more.

After a few more canapés, whiskies and much discussion (the event was packed with Australian whisky faces), it was time to call it a night (and a fantastic one at that).

I predict we'll hear a lot more about these whiskies, and hopefully other parts of the portfolio (*cough* *cough*), in the coming months, and that should be music to the ears of any Australian whisky fan.

 - Martin.

* Here are the official Suntory tasting notes:
Colour: Gold
Nose: Strawberry, cherry, Mizunara (Japanese oak)
Palate: Raspberry, white peach, touch of coconut
Finish: Sweet vanilla, clean finish with hint of cinnamon

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. I've long considered the world's greatest ever product placement movie to be amongst my all-time favourites. That very same movie is also one of the things that got me interested in whisky. So I just can't resist responding to this post by commenting, with feeling: "It's Suntory time!"